Simple Techniques For Helping Memorize Vocabulary

Simple Techniques For Helping Memorize Vocabulary

There are literally an innumerable amount of techniques you can apply when building vocabulary. Flip through a couple of websites or forums about memory building and you’re likely to find plenty of them. Some will work better for you than others, but you’ll have to try them out and see how they work in practice. The following techniques, or some combination of them, are among the most effective I’ve seen.

1. Flash cards. Having been around for the longest time, almost everyone is familiar with flash cards. Surviving the test of time isn’t an easy feat and they’ve done it for good reason — they’re simply one of the best tools ever devised for memorizing anything. With the advent of smartphones, flash cards (or the idea behind them) have become more useful than ever, allowing students to carry thousands of electronic flashcards in their phone for use anytime they get a free moment. Flash cards are simple, inexpensive and proven effective, so make sure to take advantage of them when searching for tools to help your vocabulary building efforts.
2. Hear, echo and associate. When you first encounter a word, the first thing to do is to listen intently at the right way of pronouncing it. Then, repeat it to yourself loudly (you can whisper if you’re in public and feel self-conscious). Most people stop there and that’s wrong — it’s very easy to forget a vocabulary item if you simply parrot it. You need to associate it to something that is meaningful to you. That way, the word has a personal meaning that makes it memorable, rather than just being a bunch of syllables and sounds strung together.
3. Read more. Try to spend a lot of time reading in the target language. Start with easy reading materials like product descriptions on e-commerce websites, short blog posts or Twitter timelines of native speakers. Once you get comfortable with that, start reading longer materials, like magazine articles, newspapers and books. Doing so allows you to encounter words in different contexts, giving you a better idea of how to use specific vocabulary elements in the language. Reading will also expose you to a lot of new language elements that you may not have even encountered in your regular lessons. Try understanding their meaning from context first before pulling out the dictionary and thesaurus.
4. Brute repetition. This isn’t the most elegant technique, but you can’t deny that brute repetition works — people have been doing it to commit facts to memory since time immemorial. It’s especially useful for remembering hard-to-retain items, such as words you rarely encounter in your readings and practice sessions. Frequent vocal repetition of a word or phrase allows your mind to form a familiarity with it (auditory memory), making it easier to recognize and recall when you need it later. You can also write words down repeatedly to establish a visual and lexical context in your mind.
5. Form phrases and sentences with each vocabulary item. We suggest either writing them down or recording them by speaking into a computer. Doing this allows you to immediately practice using new words as you pick them up, forcing you to process the words in a much deeper manner than you normally would just memorizing them off of a page. Instead of just learning a word and its meaning, you work it into a whole web of meanings.
6. Latching onto a key sound. Some words have prominent sounds or syllables that are easy to recognize and easy to remember, especially in European languages like French or Russian. You can use those notable elements to improve your memory and recall of the word, associating the specific sound with the actual word. If you like, you can also associate them with memorable hooks from songs, too — doing that works very well for a lot of people.
7. Using cognates. You can use cognates (two words in different languages that share a similar meaning, spelling and pronunciation) to help lend additional context to new vocabulary items. Cognates are rarely the exact equivalent of the original word in question, but the relationship and similarities will help you establish a clear image for it in your mind. Do note that not all words that seem like cognates are actual cognates. For instance, the words exit (English) and exito (Spanish) may appear the same, but one means “to leave” and the other means “success.” This technique is especially useful for languages that share many similar words, such as English and Spanish, where an estimated 30 to 40 percent of all words are valid cognates. For languages that have little in common, like English and Korean, the usefulness of this technique should prove a little less potent.
8. Diglot weave. In this technique, you insert the new foreign vocabulary item into a sentence in English, substituting the foreign word in place of its English equivalent. We suggest making at least four or five sentences for each new vocabulary item — this should be enough to establish a meaningful context for it. Try to create different sentences for every instance (declaratives, questions, commands and others) to give yourself a decent sample variety.
9. Create lists. Put together two numbered lists. On one list, put the words you want to remember. On the other, put their meanings or translations in your native language. You can write this out as a table or as two separate documents. Either way, you can look at the lists periodically to study them, memorizing each item until you’re able to recall everything on cue.
10. Take vocabulary tests. I’m a huge fan of taking vocabulary tests for learning and recall. Problem is, these aren’t as readily available as you’d probably like. If you can find them, though, they’re incredibly useful for reinforcing your recall of new words and phrases. I’ve seen several websites offer crosswords and similar vocabulary exercises in different languages — try using them to help in your own search. Most language software also come with a load of practice tests and exercises, so if you’re using one, it’s a good place to look.


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